Friday, 28 September 2007

Break with New Labour - build a new party of the left

"The rule changes bounced through the conference this week removing the right of Labour members to determine the party’s policies at the conference mean the event is now little more than a trade fair and media platform for speeches from the leader and ministers."

John McDonnell MP - extract from his blog post 'Business as usual'

Surely now, after this year's party 'conference', the left still inside the Labour Party will finally consider making the break?

The Labour Party is now even more undemocratic, the unions have less influence, and Gordon Brown is moving the party yet further to the right in order to attract Tory voters ahead of a possible snap election.

So just what is the point of remaining within the Labour Party now? The faint hope that it will shift left in maybe 10 years time? Even this prediction would seem unlikely. Can we afford to wait another 10 years to find out?

The need for a new party is not just something for politicos and leftists to discuss and debate, its not just something that's a 'nice idea' in theory. Its actually something needed urgently to help organise and give political voice to the working class and socialist movement.

Without a party to organise around and campaign for, any defensive struggles against neo-liberal counter-reforms, imperialist war and occupation or environmental destruction are weakened. These struggles are then tactically restricted to strikes or direct actions, but with no real political strategy available.

The greatest example of this was the massive anti-war movement in 2003. With no serious left-wing party in existance, the Liberal Democrats were allowed to benefit from the huge anti-war mood. A party that in reality supported the war once it started, and that supported the war against Afghanistan and the former Yugoslavia, was the main beneficiary. What a wasted opportunity for the left.

And now, with public sector workers facing what are in effect pay cuts (below inflation pay rises), and with industrial action looming, there is no party to support them, to take on the establishment parties, to argue the corner of the strikers, and no party for those involved in the struggle to join or support.

If a serious party of the left were to exist it would encourage workers in struggle. It would provide them with a more coherent set of political arguments as well as taking up the propaganda of the government and right-wing media.

The party nationally and in local branches could also organise solidarity and political campaigning is support of any struggle. The result would be a more confident and politicised working class as a whole.

John McDonnell and other left-wing MPs, together with those socialists still active within the Labour Party, could potentially attract tens of thousands to join a new left-wing party if they were to make such a call. Even if just a few of the left MPs were to make a break and launch a new party they could expect a huge response.

Undoubtedly many unions, either those which have disaffiliated already or those under pressure to do so from their membership, would respond possitively to a new party. Certainly the RMT, FBU and PCS could be won over - with more to follow as the new party took shape.

However, a party is far more than just MPs. A party with nothing at the base isn't really a party at all in fact. A new party of the left might not win MPs to start with, or it may just win a few. This purely electoralist argument is used by some on the Labour left to justify staying put.

This argument is totally false. Even with no MPs, a new party that brought together tens of thousands of activists, some entire trade unions, and both independent and organised socialists would have a huge impact. It would enable coherent campaigning by the forces of the left in all the major towns and cities. It would also attract much wider media attention than the remaining Labour left gets, helping a new party to become a household name in a short space of time.

A new party should not limit itself to just elections, but should campaign on all the major issues of the day, in support of industrial struggles and international solidarity appeals.

Elections, votes, MPs and Councillors are of course important. A few good votes, a few electoral victories, at any level, would give confidence to wider layers of the working class to support a new party. This would attract thousands of new members.

New elected representatives that acted in a principled socialist manner, resolutely standing up for the people who elected them, would bring credit to the party and gain even wider support still.

The aim must be to create a thoroughly democratic party with a massive activist base, a party where the base is in control of policy as well as the actions of elected representatives and party workers. A new party should aim to be an improvement on the Labour Party as was, not a direct replica.

The objective conditions exist for a successful party of the left to be launched, to achieve victories and to build itself. What's needed is a catalyst to create a new party, or at least the beginnings of it.

Those consistantly left-wing Labour MPs, and the left-led trade unions such as the RMT, PCS, FBU and others, have the most authority amongst the wider working class and within the socialist movement, and therefore, it's primarily down to them to act. They have the weight to bring together the widest and numerically greatest number of activists needed to acually launch a new party and start the process of building it.

If they cling on to the rotten corpse of the Labour Party they are neglecting their responsibilities as leaders of the workers' and socialist movement. They need to act now - and take the steps necessary to establish a new party for the working class and socialism.


ian said...

'John McDonnell and other left-wing MPs, together with those socialists still active within the Labour Party, could potentially attract tens of thousands to join a new left-wing party if they were to make such a call. Even if just a few of the left MPs were to make a break and launch a new party they could expect a huge response.'

That wont happen. It hasnt happened to date. John McD would flounder to the fringes like comrades like Dave Nellist.
This is unfortunate considering they are good socialists.

Anonymous said...

Firstly Karl, a very good article on your blog, and must say I have been reading it regularly. keep up the good work

Ian, I wouldn't say Nellist has been floundering on the fringes! He is the most widely respected and trusted politician in Coventry, and a fine representative for working class people, as a Councillor.

ian said...


I know he is.Dave is a good bloke. I went up to Coventry to canvass for him in the mid 80s.

My point is that the left should be orientating itself around building the ideas of Socialism as cross party base and not concentrating on elections. While you could argue that this is not the case in Coventry, in the rest of the country , the non Labour left gets miniscule votes which raises the point that we should concentrate in non electorial work to build unity/solidarity amongst the working class.
You have to accept that turnouts at elections are falling and we have to look at alternative forms of work to attract the advanced layers of workers.


Leftwing Criminologist said...

I feel I have to point out recent events in Huddersfield that has seen a large CNWP supporters group beginning to coalesce their and form a political alliance on the back of SP member Jackie Grunsell being elected to the local council and using that as a springboard to support of local struggles including against local nursery cuts and against the sacking of workers by unique care. It's not a question of one or the other tactic but a combination of the two

Robert said...

the idea has its attractions but basically I agree with Tony Benn - there are too many socialist parties and not enough socialists. If we do decide to give up on the Labour Party we should join Respect and help build it up rather than form another outfit which is doomed to become the People's Front of Judea.

ks said...

thanks for the comments.

2 quick points.

1. it's not 1992. i think a break from labour now would be far more advantageous than when nellist was expelled. i think it would lead to a new party if someone like mcdonnell made the break and approached other forces.

2. i understand your point about respect but like many others, i'm wary and critical of it. esp. as the main component appears so dominant. maybe a development from the trade unions or labour left, which could include respect, will have more appeal. esp. important is that a new formation is open and democratic.

best wishes,


Anonymous said...

I would think it is a new opportunity.

Unfortunately the top brass in most of the 'left' parties are not interested in actually doing something about the cronic social problems in Britain. They are more interested in massaging there own selfish egos.

As a previous blog mentioned, isn't it time for a mass party of the left, in which instead of splinter groups jostling for power and arguing about what they think 'socialism' is, more was done to think about why we need a socialist/communist party?(To tackle poverty, unemployment and other severe social problems).

A lot of people in Britain and throughout the world are having a bad time. It's time to unite and do something about it.